Self-Respect: How I lost it in the face of verbal abuse

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Self-Respect: How I lost it in the face of verbal abuse

Picture adapted from “Walk away” by Joe Jukes

I have an important presentation on Monday. I have prepared for it all through Saturday. I know I am ready, but I still feel nervy and anxious. All I seem to hear is my dad’s cold voice, “You are nothing! You are a big zero!”

My dad could be the most charming person in the world, but when I cross him, he could tear my self-respect into shreds.

Like all fathers, he wanted the best for his child. The problem was, he had my life all planned out and he wanted to be in control. He expected me to excel in academics and sports, and for the most part I did. He wanted me in the right circles and insisted on meeting and inspecting my friends. (Oh, how I hated my teenage years!)

The few times that I didn’t meet his expectations, he would be stinging. He wouldn’t raise his voice. He wouldn’t curse – he abhorred profanity – but he had a way with words and he could shrivel me up with quite a few choice phrases. My confidence would be in pieces and, all self-respect gone, I would feel that I just can’t win. When my mother intervened, he would turn on her with a list of her shortcomings, and would finally end with his favourite, “You just watch it, Ruthie, she is going to amount to nothing!” or another, “She is going to be just another kitchen drudge like you!” Looking back, I still wonder why my mother put up with all that verbal abuse.

I proved him wrong, I guess, although there was a point when my life almost got derailed.

In a way, I am today what I am because of my parents – especially my dad. I have a successful life today, all thanks to the strong foundation given by my dad. But, I could have “amounted to nothing” too- that too thanks to my dad. I was heading to be a nervous wreck, but then I rebelled! I couldn’t take it anymore and I walked out of the house. I dropped out of college, moved in with a friend, took up odd jobs to sustain me. Anything to get away from the constricting atmosphere at home!

It was hard. But for the first time, I was free, and I got back my self-respect. I made a lot of mistakes, I would rather forget those. Eventually, I started blogging and creative writing. I didn’t earn much, but it was enough for me to finish college. I got a job in advertising and determinedly pushed my way up the rungs. Not a life my dad envisioned for me, but I didn’t do badly either – although my dad doesn’t agree. I don’t think he approves of my fiancé either, although he hasn’t said it in so many words.

Yes, I did mend my relationship with my dad when he tried to reconnect – with a little bit of help from my mama and our family counsellor. My dad still maintains that I was too sensitive and he was only trying to get the best out of me, but I have decided to forgive him and we have agreed not to talk about the past. I call my dad once in a while and we occasionally visit them. But that’s about it. He was cruel, inadvertently or otherwise, and I’m still afraid to trust myself to be there with him for too long. I am still afraid he would crush my spirit. I still have a long way to go. My counsellor explained that I am still hankering for his approval and that I still am trying to make him respect me. Somehow, my self-respect is linked to my dad’s approval, which is sad. But there it is. I am trying to work my mind around that.

My psychologist asked me to ruminate for while and jot down how I can motivate myself and boost my self-respect and these are what I came up with:

  1. I need to build resilience and not be so sensitive.
  2. I should be open to criticism. I shouldn’t be at the defensive at all times. Someone not agreeing with me doesn’t mean I am an idiot. If I am wrong, I should be able to learn from someone pointing it out. Accepting criticism is not tantamount to losing my self-respect.
  3. “Don’t let the enemy see your bleeding finger.” – One of my dad’s favourite quotes, but apt here. It’s a tough world out there and people will take advantage of any weakness, however small. If I have any shortcomings, I mustn’t show them for all and sundry to exploit.
  4. I am tough. Ironic as it may seem, I am tough. I was strong enough to finally stand up to my dad and decide that I can manage on my own. I worked hard, juggling jobs and studying at the same time. I put myself through college. I fought my way up in the corporate ladder. I am tough!
  5. I am smart, beautiful and successful.
  6. I don’t need my dad’s approval or anyone else’s for that matter to know that I am worthy of respect. (Although, I did feel a glow when my psychologist said, “These are good!” – So, I don’t need anyone’s approval, but hey, I appreciate compliments?!)

No, I haven’t taken a printout of that to stick on my bathroom door! But, those words are in the back of my mind and that’s what I am telling myself now to pep myself up for tomorrow’s presentation. That’s why I finally sat down to write this blog on self-respect. It is truly liberating to finally give voice to my insecurities, even if it were anonymously!

I know that I am not alone. I am sure there are many “messed up” people like me out there. If I you read this and I have helped you out in some measure, then I am glad.

Psychologist’s Note: Verbal abuse can happen in any relationship – between partners or between a parent and a child. A person who is subject to verbal abuse over time can lose all sense of self-respect and feel he or she is not worthy of being loved. If you see yourself in such a situation, then it is time to take charge and walk away.

If you are looking for help, whether for yourself or for a loved one, our psychologists can assist in exploring underlying issues through therapy. Please visit our practitioners’ page to find out more, or call (03) 9820-5577 for an appointment or to make enquiries.

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Clinical PsychologistTV and Attention Disorders in Children